Subdued performances from David Pocock and Michael Hooper could force a change for the Wallabies
The Wallabies believe their twin jackal approach to winning the Rugby World Cup is being stripped of its potency, casting some doubt over the ongoing selection of David Pocock.
Captain Michael Hooper and Pocock’s combination is regarded as Australia’s biggest point of difference in Japan, with the openside flankers proven masters at turning over breakdown possession.
However, the ‘Pooper’ pairing has barely made an impact on the ground through the first two games.
Pocock was penalised three times at the breakdown during the opening win over Fiji, with coach Michael Cheika later accusing match officials of focusing too heavily on the champion forward.
There were no clean turnovers in the loss to Wales although Pocock did appear to force one penalty when he got his hands to the ball held by a tackled player.
Hooker Tolu Latu, himself a proven breakdown jackal, conceded the Wallabies will consider chasing less turnovers, such is the degree of difficulty.
“Yeah, it’s really hard. Even ‘Poey’ is struggling to get on the ball as well and he is one of the best at it,” Latu said ahead of Saturday’s match against Uruguay in Oita.
“The game is so quick that you don’t really have much time to get into the ruck and get on the ball and it seems like refs are not really giving much penalties away at ruck time to the person pilfering. You’ve just got to leave it.”
Referees in Japan have allowed tackled players greater leeway to hold onto the ball, which can have the effect of creating a greater attacking spectacle.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 1, 2019
Officials are also largely ignoring side entry at rucks, which is a penalty offence. Those players can effectively clean out the likes of Pocock and Hooper before they get a firm hold on possession.
“You have to survive probably two cleanouts. And it’s a fair bit of time to be in there,” Latu said.
“It’s probably better to be in the (defence) line and getting your line sorted so that you can get up and make tackles.”
A change of Australian tactics could also prompt a selection re-think.
Hooper has been among Australia’s best all year while No.8 Isi Naisarani has shown glimpses of his ball-carrying qualities in both World Cup games, leaving Pocock’s place open for scrutiny.
Powerhouse blindside flanker Lukhan Salakaia-Loto has been used off the bench in Japan but was an influential performer before the World Cup, playing 80 minutes in all five Tests.
He would boost the pack’s physicality as well its lineout prowess.
Latu warned Pocock shouldn’t be written off as a breakdown force and expected him to keep growing into his game after sitting out six months this year with a calf injury.
“I am sure he will come back this weekend and prove me wrong and probably get six turnovers,” he said.
Welsh fans are understandably optimistic after their strong showing against Australia:
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now